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Koshiabura is a small, compact, and leafy bud that forms on the end of young tree shoots. The base of the bud is thick, dense, and stalky, comprised of several protective green-brown layers. As the stems of the buds mature, they will gradually become darker, showcasing red-purple to dark brown hues. The stems also become harder as they mature, generally discarded at this stage before cooking due to their tough nature. In addition to the stems and buds, Koshiabura is known for its delicate, newly formed leaves. There can be a few to many leaves on the end of each stem, and the leaves are curled or folded inward, slowly unfurling, revealing their narrow and oval shape. The pale green leaves are also serrated, bearing jagged edges, and have a delicate, crisp, tender, and succulent nature. Koshiabura has a fresh, vegetal, and green flavoring with a touch of bitterness. Depending on the age of the buds and leaves, the bitter flavor will increase with size.
Koshiabura is available in the spring through early summer.
Koshiabura, botanically classified as Chengiopanax sciadophylloides, is the young bud and leaves of a flowering tree belonging to the Araliaceae family. The tall, deciduous tree is native to Japan, growing over twenty meters in height, and is the source of a seasonal, wild delicacy highly prized in culinary dishes. In the spring, small buds with soft green leaves develop on the tips of the tree’s shoots, and these buds can be snapped off, allowing the tree to still survive and grow. The foraged buds and leaves are known as Koshiabura and are a traditional sansai vegetable of Japan. Sansai vegetables are prized wild, springtime ingredients favored for their refreshing, slightly bitter flavor. This flavor is believed to awaken the senses, and the young greens provide an added source of nutrients during the bleak winter to spring transition. Koshiabura is known as the “queen of the mountain vegetables” and is sometimes labeled as Koshi-abura, Gonzetsu, or Gonzetsunoki. The name Koshiabura roughly translates to mean “filtered oil.” This unusual moniker was given to the tree as an oil was historically extracted from the trunk to create a gold lacquer, used to coat metals to prevent rust. Koshiabura is also called Fude-ha, meaning “Brush Leaf” for its similarity in appearance to a calligraphy brush.
Koshiabura is an excellent source of polyphenols, plant compounds that provide antioxidant-like properties to reduce inflammation and protect the cells against the damages caused by free radicals. The young greens also provide some vitamins A and C to strengthen the immune system while maintaining healthy organ functioning, calcium and phosphorus to protect bones and teeth, and iron to develop the protein hemoglobin for oxygen transport through the bloodstream.
Koshiabura has a fresh and vegetal flavor well suited for lightly cooked preparations. The foraged stems and leaves can sometimes have a bitter taste, and the bitter flavors can be reduced slightly by soaking the buds in water and vinegar. Once soaked, Koshiabura is most popularly fried into tempura. This preparation creates a crunchy exterior with soft, rich flesh and is commonly served as a seasonal springtime appetizer. Koshiabura can also be incorporated into soups, boiled and tossed with ponzu sauce or a sesame miso paste, cooked into noodle, rice, or egg dishes, or mixed with tofu in vegetarian main dishes. In Japan, Koshiabura is stirred into takikomi gohan, a rice dish composed of meat, vegetables, and aromatics, or it is simmered into nimono or pickled for extended use. Koshiabura pairs well with mushrooms, cabbage, squash, other leafy greens, taro root, meats such as poultry, beef, or pork, and seafood. Whole, unwashed Koshiabura will keep for 2 to 3 days when wrapped in paper towels and stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. The buds should be consumed as quickly as possible for the best flavor and texture. Koshiabura can also be blanched and frozen.
In Japan, Koshiabura is harvested off of a tree that is also highly prized for its wood. Craftsmen value the wood for its flexibility and strength and use it as material for a wide variety of items, including chopsticks, boxes, and general construction. One of the most famous uses for the wood is the base material for otaka-poppo dolls in Yonezawa, a city in the Yamagata Prefecture of Japan. These dolls have been handmade in Yonezawa for centuries and are traditionally carved in simple, strategic strokes using a single knife. Otaka-poppo translates from Japanese to mean “toy hawk” and is a wood figure carved with a hawk at the top of a pedestal. This hawk is a favorite toy of the Yamagata region, but it is also an amulet to bring prosperity and happiness to the family home. When craftsmen carve the figurines, they always carve the tail and wings last as those features are cut so thin and delicate that it is challenging to work around them once created. There is also a precise order in how the figurine is painted as a sign of respect for the tradition and dolls. Otaka-poppo is a popular gift for families with a newborn child. It is customary to send a doll the same height as the baby as a sign of good luck and as a blessing for happiness over the family and child.
Koshiabura is native to Japan and has been growing wild since ancient times. The springtime buds are a seasonal delicacy and have remained a wild vegetable only foraged and not commercially cultivated. Koshiabura is generally one of the rarer sansai vegetables in Japan and is available in limited quantities through local foragers and fresh markets. The young buds are gathered from cool mountainous regions at high altitudes across Japan, with a concentrated supply coming from Tohoku, a northern area on Honshu Island known for its rugged terrain. Today Koshiabura is found for only a few weeks through select markets in the spring in Japan.
Recipes that include Koshiabura. One is easiest, three is harder.
|No Recipes||Chicken Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken)|
|Bento||Green Beans in Sesame Dressing|
|NHK World Japan||Tempura with Spring Shoots|
|Ozeki Cooking School||Tempura of Sansai with Hand-Picked Wild Vegetables|